Major Operas | Mathis der Maler by Paul Hindemith | Modern Era
Premiered: 1938, Zürich
Libretto by the composer
Mathis is painting a fresco. Schwalb, a leader of the peasants’ revolt, shelters in the monastery with his daughter Regina. He reproaches Mathis for ignoring his fellow men. Mathis helps them escape.
Catholics quarrel with Protestants. Riedinger, a wealthy Protestant, successfully protests to Cardinal Albrecht about an order to burn Lutheran books. Mathis and Ursula, Riedinger’s daughter, declare their love. Pommersfelden, the dean of Mainz Cathedral, insists on enforcing laws against Protestants. Mathis is denounced for helping Schwalb. He is released but insists on leaving Albrecht’s service.
Capito foils Protestant attempts to hide their books in Riedinger’s house. He shows them a letter from Luther urging the cardinal to bring reconciliation by marrying a Protestant. Ursula is asked whether she would marry for the good of her faith. She pleads with Mathis to take her away, but he has decided to join the rebels.
Mathis tries to stop peasants harming Countess Helfenstein and is himself attacked. Schwalb is killed. The countess begs the soldiers to spare Mathis. Regina weeps over her father’s body.
Albrecht reproaches Ursula for considering the marriage plan. She replies that she agreed because he is an enlightened man who could reconcile the warring factions. He resolves to do so from within the Church, renouncing wealth and marriage.
Mathis and Regina have fled the fighting. He sees visions relating to the Isenheim altarpiece with himself as St Anthony, and is tormented by devils. Appearing as St Paul, Albrecht urges him to use his painting skills to benefit mankind.
Regina dies in Mathis’s studio, tended by Ursula. The studio is almost empty. Mathis tells Albrecht that his work is done. He packs away his last possessions.
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